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Saade v. Fenimore

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

December 27, 2019

CHRISTOPHER RYAN SAADE, Plaintiff,
v.
TIMOTHY J. FENIMORE, in his individual capacity as an agent of the DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, THE CITY OF BELLEVUE, a Washington municipal corporation, ELLEN M. INMAN, individually and in her official capacity as an officer of the CITY OF BELLEVUE POLICE DEPARTMENT, and RACHEL M. NEFF, individually and in her official capacity as an officer of the CITY OF BELLEVUE POLICE DEPARTMENT, jointly and severally, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Thomas S. Zilly United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the deferred portion of the Motion to Dismiss brought by Defendant Timothy J. Fenimore (“Fenimore”), docket no. 9, Defendant Fenimore's Second Motion to Dismiss, docket no. 28, and the Second Motion to Dismiss, docket no. 29, brought by the City of Bellevue, Ellen M. Inman (“Inman”), and Rachel M. Neff (“Neff”) (hereinafter “Bellevue Defendants”). Having reviewed all papers filed in support of and in opposition to the motions, the Court enters the following order.

         Background

         By Order dated September 18, 2019, docket no. 22, in connection with Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, the Court dismissed portions of Plaintiff's original complaint without prejudice, allowing Plaintiff an opportunity to replead those claims. The Court deferred ruling relative to Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim against Defendant Fenimore and directed Plaintiff to file a brief on the issue of qualified immunity. Docket no. 23. In response, Plaintiff filed a supplemental brief. Docket no. 27. Plaintiff has now filed an Amended Complaint (“AC”), realleging certain claims that the Court previously dismissed without prejudice as well as the deferred claim. Docket no. 25.

         Because the parties are familiar with the facts of the case, they are not recited here in great detail. See Order (docket no. 22 at 2-3). In the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Christopher Ryan Saade (“Saade” or “Plaintiff”) alleges that Defendant Fenimore, an agent of the State of Washington Department of Health (“DOH”), and the Bellevue Defendants violated his civil rights when they interviewed him together for parallel DOH and criminal investigations. AC ¶¶ 47-48; 56-58. After DOH's investigation, DOH placed Plaintiff's professional license on probationary status. Id. ¶¶ 41-42. Plaintiff alleges that these Defendants did not inform him that there was an ongoing parallel criminal investigation until after they jointly interviewed him. Id. ¶¶ 31-32. All Defendants now move to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.

         Discussion

         A. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         Although a complaint challenged by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss need not provide detailed factual allegations, it must offer “more than labels and conclusions” and contain more than a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The complaint must indicate more than mere speculation of a right to relief. Id. When a complaint fails to adequately state a claim, such deficiency should be “exposed at the point of minimum expenditure of time and money by the parties and the court.” Id. at 558. A complaint may be lacking for one of two reasons: (i) absence of a cognizable legal theory, or (ii) insufficient facts under a cognizable legal claim. Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984). In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must assume the truth of the plaintiff's allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Usher v. City of Los Angeles, 828 F.2d 556, 561 (9th Cir. 1987). The question for the Court is whether the facts in the complaint sufficiently state a “plausible” ground for relief. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. If the Court dismisses the complaint or portions thereof, it must consider whether to grant leave to amend. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000).

         B. Claims Against Defendant Fenimore

         The doctrine of qualified immunity protects government officials from liability for civil damages unless: (i) the facts, taken “in the light most favorable” to the party asserting injury, show that the state actor violated a constitutional right; and (ii) when all inferences from the evidence are drawn “in the light most favorable” to the party asserting injury, the constitutional right in question was “clearly established” at the time of the violation. See Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 655-57 (2014). Whether Defendant Fenimore is entitled to qualified immunity is an issue of law to be decided by the Court, see Hunter v. Bryant, 502 U.S. 224, 228 (1991), but the Court may submit the related factual questions to the jury, see Morales v. Fry, 873 F.3d 817, 824 (9th Cir. 2017) (citing cases from the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Eleventh, and District of Columbia Circuits).

         a. Fourth Amendment

         With regard to the first part of the qualified immunity analysis-whether Defendant Fenimore seized Plaintiff pursuant to the Fourth Amendment-the Court has already ruled that it could not decide as a matter of law that a reasonable person in Plaintiff's circumstances would have felt free to leave the interview with Defendants. See Order (docket no. 22 at 6-7).

         As to the second question posed under the qualified immunity doctrine, “[a] constitutional right is clearly established if every reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.” Rodriguez v. Swartz, 899 F.3d 719, 728 (9th Cir. 2018) (quotation marks and citation omitted). The court first “‘look[s] to … binding precedent.'” Chappell v. Mandeville, 706 F.3d 1052, 1056 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Osolinski v. Kane, 92 F.3d 934, 936 (9th Cir. 1996)). Absent binding precedent, the court should consider all relevant decisional precedent and consider the likelihood that the Supreme Court or the Ninth Circuit would decide the issue in favor of the person asserting the right. See Elder v. Holloway, 510 U.S. 510, 512, 516 (1994); Osolinski, 92 F.3d at 936. Although there need not be “a case directly on point for a right to be clearly established, existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.” Foster v. City of Indio, 908 F.3d 1204, 1210 (9th Cir. 2018) (quoting Kisela v. Hughes, 138 S.Ct. 1148, 1152 (2018)). A single district court opinion from out of the circuit is insufficient to demonstrate a clearly established right. Watkins v. City of Oakland, Cal., 145 F.3d 1087, 1092 n.1 (9th Cir. 1998).

         In its minute order, docket no. 23, the Court directed Plaintiff to address whether the Fourth Amendment right that Defendant Fenimore allegedly violated was “clearly established” at the time of the alleged violation. The Court advised Plaintiff that it may grant the deferred portion of Defendant Fenimore's Motion to Dismiss, docket no. 9, after reviewing any supplemental brief. Plaintiff filed a supplemental brief on October 31, 2019, docket no. 27, in response to the Court's minute order. Plaintiff also addressed the issue of qualified immunity in his Response to Defendant Fenimore's Second Motion to Dismiss, docket no. 30 at 8-11.

         Plaintiff relies on Niemann v. Whalen, 911 F.Supp. 656 (S.D.N.Y. 1996) in response to the Court's request for briefing. Docket no. 27 at 4-5. In Niemann, a bank teller was interviewed simultaneously by a plainclothes officer and a bank security guard regarding missing bank funds. Id. at 661-63. The bank teller did not know about the pending criminal investigation, and she was not read her Miranda rights before being pressured into giving a confession. Id. Plaintiff's reliance on Niemann is misplaced. Unlike Plaintiff's allegations in this case, the court in Niemann discussed plaintiff's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights with regard to the parallel interview, not her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure. See Id. at 667 (“We believe that plaintiff's contentions are properly understood as alleging a violation of her Fifth or Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from the coercion of a confession, rather than as a violation of her Fourth Amendment right to be free from the unreasonable seizure of her person.”). Moreover, the Niemann court actually granted Summary Judgment for defendant on plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim to the extent it was based on an alleged seizure at the plaintiff's interview. Id. at 666-67 (“To the extent that plaintiff's [Fourth Amendment claims] are based on the fact that she was interviewed, defendants are entitled to summary judgment dismissing those claims.”).[1] This Court cannot conclude that the Supreme Court or the Ninth Circuit would decide the issue in favor of Plaintiff, ” Elder, 510 U.S. at 512, 516, or that the existence of Niemann places the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate. Foster, 908 F.3d at 1210 (quoting Kisela, 138 S.Ct. at 1152).

         Moreover, Niemann is a single, out of circuit district court case. A single district court opinion even in its own circuit is insufficient to demonstrate a clearly established right. Thomas v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 703 Fed.Appx. 508, 512 (9th Cir. 2017).[2]

         After reviewing the relevant briefing, the Court finds that Plaintiff has not carried his burden of “point[ing] to prior case law that articulates a constitutional rule specific enough to alert the[] [Defendant] in this case that their particular conduct was unlawful.” Hernandez v. City of San Jose, 897 F.3d 1125, 1137 (2018) (quoting Sharp v. Cty. of Orange, 871 F.3d 901, 911 (9th Cir. 2017)). Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim against Defendant Fenimore is DISMISSED.

         b. ...


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